The league attracts some of the world’s best players, who often produce some thrilling battles, as World Chess’s columnist explains.
The German Bundesliga does not always get a lot of attention from fans, which is a pity. It is an elite league competition and many of the world’s best players participate for at least some of its rounds. The 2016-2017 season finished May 1st and the participants included Fabiano Caruana of the United States, ranked No. 4 in the world; Levon Aronian, No. 6; Viswanathan Anand of India, No. 8; Peter Svidler of Russia, No. 13; Michael Adams of England, No. 18; Radoslaw Wojtaszek of Poland, No. 24; and quite a few other players rated over 2700. The winning team was OSG Baden-Baden, scoring a perfect 15/15 in team matches.
One of their key victories came on the final weekend of the competition, in the next-to-last round, against the SG Solingen squad, which finished third. Though Solingen fielded a strong team, Baden-Baden won the match by the lopsided score of 6½ - 1½.
One of the key games from that match was an entertaining battle between Aronian, who was playing for Baden-Baden, and Borki Predojevic, a Bosnian grandmaster rated over 2600. The game started out as a Modern Defense and then quickly transposed into a Pirc, but the more interesting transformation came in the early middlegame when it turned into a sort of Classical King’s Indian.
The play in that opening often devolves into an all-out race, with White looking to break open the queenside and penetrate into Black’s position before Black lands a haymaker against White’s king on the other side of the board. For a long time the game remained roughly balanced, but when White dawdled too long to get in the c5 break Aronian, who was playing Black, was able to achieve a breakthrough of his own on the kingside, winning nicely.
Predojevic, Borki vs. Aronian, Levon
Bundesliga 2016-17 |Berlin GER |Round 14.3 |30 Apr 2017 |0-1
1. e4g6This is not a regular part of Aronian's repertoire, but it's a good
way of keeping a fighting game going against a lower-rated opponent
(relatively speaking). 2. d4Bg73. Nf3
( 3. Nc3is a sharper continuation,
generally intending to meet 3... d6with either 4. f4or ... )
3... d64. c3Very solid - maybe too solid and insufficiently ambitious. 4... Nf65. Bd3O-O6. O-ONc67. Re1
( 7. d5was played by none other than Aronian himself, and
successfully against Grischuk. That said, it was only a blitz game. 7... Nb88. h3The immediate ...c69. c4a510. Nc3Na611. Bg5h612. Be3White already enjoyed a serious advantage, and went on to win. 1-0 (51)
Aronian,L (2784)-Grischuk,A (2752) chess.com INT 2016 )
7... e58. h3Re89. d5Ne710. c4From a Modern to a Pirc to a King's Indian - at least structurally.
The Classical King's Indian structure typically results in White going all out
for queenside play, while Black throws everything at the White king. White's
space advantage gives him a headstart, but by way of compensation Black is
going for the more important target. One significant, slightly unusual feature
of the position (compared to some Classical King's Indians) is White's pawn on
h3, which may prove to be a "hook" for Black's intended pawn steamroller on
the kingside. 10... h611. Nc3
( 11. Be3Nh512. c5is worth a
thought, trying to expedite White's queenside play. )
( 11... Nh5is a natural alternative, putting the knight on a more aggressive square while
leaving the Bc8 unobstructed. There are two advantages to Aronian's move
compared to this one, though. First, the knight on d7 slows down White's c5
advance; second, with the knight on h5 Black must be careful about playing the
thematic ...f5, because after exf5 recapturing with a piece allows g2-g4 while
...gxf5 may walk into Nxe5 (discovering the threat of Qxh5). )
12. Rb1The immediate
( 12. b4could be well met by 12... a5, when White cannot sensibly
play a3. )
12... a513. a3f514. b4b6Aimed against c4-c5. Note that
Aronian doesn't open the a-file, as that might rebound against him a few moves
later. Black wants to maintain peace and quiet in the center on the queenside
so he can build his kingside attack without impediment. 15. Qc2
( 15. exf5gxf516. Nh4is an interesting alternative, trying to create some disharmony in
Black's position. It entails a piece sacrifice: 16... axb417. axb4e418. Nxe4fxe419. Bxe4Rf820. Rb3gives White (more than) enough for the piece. )
15... Rf816. Bb2f4Preventing White from opening the center (as he did in the
preceding note). Now Black is putting all his eggs in the ...g5-g4 basket. 17. Nb5g518. Be2Ng6
( 18... Nf6is premature, as it allows the immediate 19. c5 )
19. Nd2Kh8!?This could prove to be a waste of time, but the intention
is a good one. Black clears g8 for the rook, and the g-file could easily prove
a major asset for him.
( 19... Nh420. Rec1h5!21. Bxh5Nf622. Bd1g423. hxg4Nxg424. Nf3Rf7!looks like Black's best bet. White's extra pawn
is just about meaningless here, and after ...Bh6 (or ...Bf8) followed by ...
Rg7, it will be very difficult for White to keep his king protected. )
20. Rec1a4An unusual looking move with a good point. By now it's clear that White
wants - even needs - to play c5 to break open the queenside. To do so
successfully he needs a minor piece (or at least something less valuable than
his queen) to cover the c5 square, and the obvious candidate is a knight on b3
- but not any more, thanks to Black's last move. 21. Bg4In general, this is
a strategic victory for White. His light-squared bishop is bad while Black's
is good. Moreover, this generally helps keep his kingside safe, especially
when White can maintain control over the g4 square. Here, however, with all
White's pieces bunched up on the queenside, Black's attack looks promising
even with the bishops exchanged.
( 21. Bc3!is probably best, intending c5.
The point is that when Black first takes with a pawn and then with the knight,
White will have Bb4, forcing some open lines for his pieces. )
21... Nf622. Bxc8Rxc823. f3
( 23. c5is possible, but it's more important for White to
worry about ...g4. 23... bxc524. bxc5g4Maybe White will escape with a draw, but
it will be scary. One possibility: 25. cxd6gxh3!26. Qd3f3!27. Qxf3Nxd528. Qg4Ndf429. g3h530. Qf3Qg531. Kh1Ne632. Qe2Rcd8!33. Nxc7Rxd634. Nxe6Rxd235. Nxg5Rxe236. Nxh3h437. Rc6hxg338. fxg3Rf639. Rxf6Bxf640. Nf4Nxf441. gxf4Rxe442. Bxe5Bxe543. fxe5Rxe5 )
23... h524. Kf2Once again the thematic
( 24. c5comes
into consideration, and was probably the better choice. 24... Qd725. Na7Ra826. Nc6bxc527. bxc5g428. hxg4hxg429. Kf2!/+/- looks like a good way to handle the position. White will follow up
with Rh1, and it appears that he has the upper hand. )
24... g425. Rh1
( 25. hxg4(and only next Rh1+) would promise White a serious edge if Black had to
recapture with the pawn. He doesn't. 25... Nxg4+!26. Ke2Ne327. Qxa4Nh428. Rh1Rg829. Rbg1Bf6Black has full compensation for the pawn in this very messy
25... g3+!?This is a surprising move by Black. Rather than
breaking the kingside open, he seems to sew it up, leaving only the queenside
available for future play. And that seems odd, as that's the part of the board
where White appears to have the better chances.
( 25... gxf3was playable and
probably objectively better. 26. Nxf3Rg827. Rbf1Qd728. Kg1A strange-looking move, but a good one. White has everything covered on the
kingside, and Black can cover the queenside. So it's possible that this is
simply a draw unless the players decide to take some extreme risks. )
26. Ke2Nh427. Rhg1
( 27. Rbg1is safer, keeping g2 and h3 covered. Now there are no
real possibilities for ...Nxg2 - at least not until and unless Black maneuvers
his second knight to g5. 27... Ra828. Nc3Qb8!?29. Kd1Rc830. Kc1c6!31. dxc6Rxc632. Qd3Bf833. Kb1 )
( 27... Ra8 )
28. Na7The naive
( 28. Qxa4is of course met by 28... Nxg2!29. Rxg2Qxh3, with enough for the piece. 30. Rbg1h431. c5!bxc532. bxc5Ra833. Qc2!Ne834. Nc4!Kg835. cxd6Qd7!36. a4 )
( 28... Ra829. Nc6Nxg2The immediate )
( 28... Nxg2is adventurous and may also be possible. )
( 29. c5!The thematic blow is still available. 29... bxc530. bxc5Nxg2!31. Rxg2Qxh332. Rbg1h433. Nb5Qd734. c6Qc835. Nxc7!Qxc736. Rh1Kg837. Rxh4Anything is possible here. )
29... Nxg2!There's nothing else
for Black to do. 30. Rxg2Qxh331. Rgg1
( 31. Rbg1Ng4!!32. Nf1Nh233. Nd2Best, and now the game glides
home with a repetition. 33... Ng434. Nf1Nh2 )
31... Ng4!A great move, one
that's possible to miss or underestimate in time trouble. 32. Kd3?
( 32. c5!h4!33. Qc1!g2! )
( 32... Nf2+33. Kc3g2is
slightly more accurate, but White is in big trouble after the game
continuation as well. )
( 33. Nf1is more resilient. Still, with
some nice maneuvering Black can regroup his way to success: 33... Nf2+34. Kc3Rg835. Qd2Bf636. Kc2Qd737. Bc3Nh338. Rg2Ng5The greedy )
( 33. Qxa4is also possible,
though it's hard to resist Black's pawn avalanche after 33... g2!Black will
have at least two far advanced, connected passed pawns. If White takes on g4,
then it will be three passers! )
33... g2!If there was any doubt before,
it has been erased. Black is clearly winning. 34. Qxa4Nf235. Kc2Qg336. Qb3Nh3
( 36... h3should win, but it needlessly allows White to put up some
resistance with 37. Nf1 )
( 36... Nh3aims to win both of White's rooks for
the knight and the g-pawn. A very nice game by Aronian! )
Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.
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